Employee-run Companies, Part of the Landscape of an Argentina in Crisis

Active Citizens, Civil Society, Cooperatives, Economy & Trade, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Headlines, Labour, Latin America & the Caribbean, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations, Trade & Investment

Labour

A group of Farmacoop workers stand in the courtyard of their plant in Buenos Aires. Members of the Argentine cooperative proudly say that theirs is the first laboratory in the world to be recovered by its workers. CREDIT: Courtesy of Pedro Pérez/Tiempo Argentino.

A group of Farmacoop workers stand in the courtyard of their plant in Buenos Aires. Members of the Argentine cooperative proudly say that theirs is the first laboratory in the world to be recovered by its workers. CREDIT: Courtesy of Pedro Pérez/Tiempo Argentino.

BUENOS AIRES, May 24 2022 (IPS) – “All we ever wanted was to keep working. And although we have not gotten to where we would like to be, we know that we can,” says Edith Pereira, a short energetic woman, as she walks through the corridors of Farmacoop, in the south of the Argentine capital. She proudly says it is “the first pharmaceutical laboratory in the world recovered by its workers.”


Pereira began to work in what used to be the Roux Ocefa laboratory in Buenos Aires in 1983. At its height it had more than 400 employees working two nine-hour shifts, as she recalls in a conversation with IPS.

But in 2016 the laboratory fell into a crisis that first manifested itself in delays in the payment of wages and a short time later led to the owners removing the machinery, and emptying and abandoning the company.

The workers faced up to the disaster with a struggle that included taking over the plant for several months and culminated in 2019 with the creation of Farmacoop, a cooperative of more than 100 members, which today is getting the laboratory back on its feet.

In fact, during the worst period of the pandemic, Farmacoop developed rapid antigen tests to detect COVID-19, in partnership with scientists from the government’s National Council for Scientific and Technical Research (Conicet), the leading organization in the sector.

Farmacoop is part of a powerful movement in Argentina, as recognized by the government, which earlier this month launched the first National Registry of Recovered Companies (ReNacER), with the aim of gaining detailed knowledge of a sector that, according to official estimates, comprises more than 400 companies and some 18,000 jobs.

The presentation of the new Registry took place at an oil cooperative that processes soybeans and sunflower seeds on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, built on what was left of a company that filed for bankruptcy in 2016 and laid off its 126 workers without severance pay.

Edith Pereira (seated) and Blácida Benitez, two of the members of Farmacoop, a laboratory recovered by its workers in Buenos Aires, are seen here in the production area. This is the former Roux Ocefa laboratory, which went bankrupt in the capital of Argentina and was left owing a large amount of back wages to its workers. CREDIT: Daniel Gutman/IPS

Edith Pereira (seated) and Blácida Benitez, two of the members of Farmacoop, a laboratory recovered by its workers in Buenos Aires, are seen here in the production area. This is the former Roux Ocefa laboratory, which went bankrupt in the capital of Argentina and was left owing a large amount of back wages to its workers. CREDIT: Daniel Gutman/IPS

The event was led by President Alberto Fernández, who said that he intends to “convince Argentina that the popular economy exists, that it is here to stay, that it is valuable and that it must be given the tools to continue growing.”

Fernández said on that occasion that the movement of worker-recuperated companies was born in the country in 2001, as a result of the brutal economic and social crisis that toppled the presidency of Fernando de la Rúa.

“One out of four Argentines was out of work, poverty had reached 60 percent and one of the difficulties was that companies were collapsing, the owners disappeared and the people working in those companies wanted to continue producing,” he said.

“That’s when the cooperatives began to emerge, so that those who were becoming unemployed could get together and continue working, sometimes in the companies abandoned by their owners, sometimes on the street,” the president added.

Two technicians package products at the Farmacoop laboratory, a cooperative with which some of the workers of the former bankrupt company undertook its recovery through self-management, a formula that is growing in Argentina in the face of company closures during successive economic crises. CREDIT: Courtesy of Farmacoop

Two technicians package products at the Farmacoop laboratory, a cooperative with which some of the workers of the former bankrupt company undertook its recovery through self-management, a formula that is growing in Argentina in the face of company closures during successive economic crises. CREDIT: Courtesy of Farmacoop

A complex social reality

More than 20 years later, this South American country of 45 million people finds itself once again in a social situation as severe or even more so than back then.

The new century began with a decade of growth, but today Argentines have experienced more than 10 years of economic stagnation, which has left its mark.

Poverty, according to official data, stands at 37 percent of the population, in a context of 60 percent annual inflation, which is steadily undermining people’s incomes and hitting the most vulnerable especially hard.

The latest statistics from the Ministry of Labor, Employment and Social Security indicate that 12.43 million people are formally employed, which in real terms – due to the increase of the population – is less than the 12.37 million jobs that were formally registered in January 2018.

“I would say that in Argentina we have been seeing the destruction of employment and industry for 40 years, regardless of the orientation of the governments. That is why we understand that worker-recovered companies, as a mechanism for defending jobs, will continue to exist,” says Bruno Di Mauro, the president of the Farmacoop cooperative.

“It is a form of resistance in the face of the condemnation of exclusion from the labor system that we workers suffer,” he adds to IPS.

"He who abandons gets no prize" reads the banner with which part of the members of the Farmacoop cooperative were demonstrating in the Plaza de Mayo in downtown Buenos Aires, during the long labor dispute with the former owners who drove the pharmaceutical company into bankruptcy. The workers managed to recover it in 2019. CREDIT: Courtesy of Bruno Di Mauro/Farmacoop.

“He who abandons gets no prize” reads the banner with which part of the members of the Farmacoop cooperative were demonstrating in the Plaza de Mayo in downtown Buenos Aires, during the long labor dispute with the former owners who drove the pharmaceutical company into bankruptcy. The workers managed to recover it in 2019. CREDIT: Courtesy of Bruno Di Mauro/Farmacoop.

Today Farmacoop has three active production lines, including Aqualane brand moisturizing cream, used for decades by Argentines for sunburn. The cooperative is currently in the cumbersome process of seeking authorizations from the health authority for other products.

“When I look back, I think that we decided to form the cooperative and recover the company without really understanding what we were getting into. It was a very difficult process, in which we had colleagues who fell into depression, who saw pre-existing illnesses worsen and who died,” Di Mauro says.

“But we learned that we workers can take charge of any company, no matter how difficult the challenge. We are not incapable just because we are part of the working class,” he adds.

Farmacoop’s workers currently receive a “social wage” paid by the State, which also provided subsidies for the purchase of machinery.

The plant, now under self-management, is a gigantic old 8,000-square-meter building with meeting rooms, laboratories and warehouse areas where about 40 people work today, but which was the workplace of several hundred workers in its heyday.

It is located between the neighborhoods of Villa Lugano and Mataderos, in an area of factories and low-income housing mixed with old housing projects, where the rigors of the successive economic crises can be felt on almost every street, with waste pickers trying to eke out a living.

Edith Pereira shows the Aqualane brand moisturizing cream, well known in Argentina, that today is produced by the workers of the Farmacoop cooperative, which has two industrial plants in Buenos Aires, recovered and managed by the workers. CREDIT: Daniel Gutman/IPS

Edith Pereira shows the Aqualane brand moisturizing cream, well known in Argentina, that today is produced by the workers of the Farmacoop cooperative, which has two industrial plants in Buenos Aires, recovered and managed by the workers. CREDIT: Daniel Gutman/IPS

“When we entered the plant in 2019, everything was destroyed. There were only cardboard and paper that we sold to earn our first pesos,” says Blácida Martínez.

She used to work in the reception and security section of the company and has found a spot in the cooperative for her 24-year-old son, who is about to graduate as a laboratory technician and works in product quality control.

A new law is needed

Silvia Ayala is the president of the Mielcitas Argentinas cooperative, which brings together 88 workers, mostly women, who run a candy and sweets factory on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, where they lost their jobs in mid-2019.

“Today we are grateful that thanks to the cooperative we can put food on our families’ tables,” she says. “There was no other option but to resist, because reinserting ourselves in the labor market is very difficult. Every time a job is offered in Argentina, you see lines of hundreds of people.”

Ayala is also one of the leaders of the National Movement of Recovered Companies, active throughout the country, which is promoting a bill in Congress to regulate employee-run companies, presented in April by the governing Frente de Todos.

“A law would be very important, because when owners abandon their companies we need the recovery to be fast, and we need the collaboration of the State; this is a reality that is here to stay,” says Ayala.

Argentine President Alberto Fernández stands with workers of the Cooperativa Aceitera La Matanza on May 5, when the government presented the Registry of Recovered Companies, which aims to formalize worker-run companies. CREDIT: Casa Rosada

Argentine President Alberto Fernández stands with workers of the Cooperativa Aceitera La Matanza on May 5, when the government presented the Registry of Recovered Companies, which aims to formalize worker-run companies. CREDIT: Casa Rosada

The Ministry of Social Development states that the creation of the Registry is aimed at designing specific public policies and tools to strengthen the production and commercialization of the sector, as well as to formalize workers.

The government defines “recovered” companies as those economic, productive or service units that were originally privately managed and are currently run collectively by their former employees.

Although the presentation was made this month, the Registry began operating in March and has already listed 103 recovered companies, of which 64 belong to the production sector and 35 to the services sector.

The first data provide an indication of the diversity of the companies in terms of size, with the smallest having six workers and the largest 177.

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It’s Time To Globalise Compassion, Says Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi

Africa, Child Labour, Conferences, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Headlines, Human Rights, Humanitarian Emergencies, Inequity, Labour, Poverty & SDGs, TerraViva United Nations

Child Labour

“I have been talking to leaders of rich countries to address the problem of post-pandemic economic meltdown. We have to work for social protection for marginalised people in low-income countries and focus on children, education, health, and protection. That is not a big investment compared to what we are going to lose – a whole generation.” – Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi

Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi addresses the 5th Global Conference on the Elimination of Child Labour. Despite setbacks, he is optimistic that child labour can be abolished. Credit: Cecilia Russell/IPS

Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi addresses the 5th Global Conference on the Elimination of Child Labour. Despite setbacks, he is optimistic that child labour can be abolished. Credit: Cecilia Russell/IPS

Durban, May 16 2022 (IPS) – A mere 35 billion US dollars per annum – equivalent to 10 days of military spending – would ensure all children in all countries benefit from social protection, Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi told the 5th Global Conference on the Elimination of Child Labour.


He said this was a small price to pay considering the catastrophic consequences of the increase in child labour since 2016, after several years of decline in child labour numbers.

An estimated 160 000 million kids are child labourers, and unless there is a drastic reversal, another 9 million are expected to join their ranks.

Satyarthi was among a distinguished group of panellists on setting global priorities for eliminating child labour. The panel included International Labour Organisation(ILO) DG Guy Ryder, South African Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi, James Quincey, CEO of Coca Cola,  Alliance 8.7 chairperson Anousheh Karver and European Union Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen.

The panel discussed child labour in the context of decent work deficits and youth employment. It identified pressing global challenges and priorities for the international community.

Satyarthi said the 35 million US dollars was far from a big ask. Nor was the 22 billion US dollars needed to ensure education for all children. He said this was the equivalent of what people in the US spent on tobacco over six days.

Satyarthi said it was a travesty that the G7, the world’s wealthiest countries, had never debated child labour – something he intends to change.

The panellists attributed the increase in child labour to several factors, including lack of political will, lack of interest from rich countries and embedded cultural and economic factors.

Asked how he remained optimistic in light of the dismal picture of growing child labour rates. Satyarthi told IPS that having been in the trenches for 40 years, he had seen and been happy to see a decline in child labour until 2016 – when the problem began escalating again.

“I strongly believe in freedom of human beings. The world will slowly move towards a more compassionate society, sometimes faster, sometimes slower,” he said.

Satyarthi, together with organisations like the ILO, succeeded in putting the issue of child labour on the international agenda. Through his foundation in collaboration with other NGOs, he got the world to take note of this hidden scourge.

He is convinced that child labour will be eliminated despite the recent setbacks.

“I am hopeful because there was no ILO programme when I started 40 years ago. Child labour was not recognised as a problem, but slowly, it is being realised that it’s wrong and evil – even a crime. So, 40 years isn’t a big tenure in the history of human beings. This scourge has been there for centuries.”

Yet he recognises the need for urgency to roll back the escalation of child labour.

“The next ten years are even more important because now we have the means, we have power, technology, and we know the solution. The only thing we need is a strong political will but also social will,” Satyarthi said. “We have to speed it up and bring back the hope. Bring back the optimism. The issue is a priority, and that’s why we are calling on markets to globalise compassion. There are many things to divide us, but there’s one thing we all agree on: the well-being of our children.”

Satyarthi said to meet the SDG deadline of 2025, he and other Nobel laureates and world leaders are pushing hard to ensure that child labour starts declining again.

“We as a group of Nobel laureates and world leaders are working on two fronts. One is a fair share for children on budgetary allocations and policies,” he said.

The group engaged with governments to ensure that children received a fair share of the budget and resources.

Then they are pushing governments on social protection, which he believes in demystifying.

“We have seen in different countries, social protection – helping through school feeding schemes, employment programmes and conditional grant programmes to ensure that children can go to school, with proven success in bringing down child labour.”

The Nobel laureate knocked on the doors of the leaders of wealthy nations.

“I have been talking to leaders of rich countries to address the problem of post-pandemic economic meltdown. We have to work for social protection for marginalised people in low-income countries and focus on children, education, health, and protection. That is not a big investment compared to what we are going to lose – a whole generation.”

Satyarthi said he was heartened by the response to their efforts to motivate governments and the private sector to join the fight against child labour.

“I have been optimistic to say many of the governments and EU leaders are not only listening – they are talking about it. Yesterday only, I was so happy that President Cyril Ramaphosa spoke very explicitly on this issue, and almost everyone was talking about this issue. But it took several months, several years to get there.”

And Satyarthi is not going to stop soon. With the Laureates and Leaders For Children project, he and fellow laureates are determined the world sits up and finds the will to ensure every child can experience a childhood.

IPS UN Bureau Report

This is part of a series of stories published by IPS during the 5th Global Conference on the Elimination of Child Labour in Durban. 

 

One Hundred Years On, Argentine State Acknowledges Indigenous Massacre in Trial

Civil Society, Crime & Justice, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Headlines, Human Rights, Indigenous Rights, Inequality, Latin America & the Caribbean, Population, Regional Categories

Indigenous Rights

During one of the hearings in Buenos Aires, the court trying a 1924 indigenous massacre in the Chaco heard the testimony of historian Nicolás Iñigo Carrera, from the University of Buenos Aires, who has been studying indigenous history in Argentina for decades. The expert witness described in detail the conditions in the Napalpí indigenous “reducción” or camp where the massacre took place. CREDIT: Daniel Gutman/IPS

During one of the hearings in Buenos Aires, the court trying a 1924 indigenous massacre in the Chaco heard the testimony of historian Nicolás Iñigo Carrera, from the University of Buenos Aires, who has been studying indigenous history in Argentina for decades. The expert witness described in detail the conditions in the Napalpí indigenous “reducción” or camp where the massacre took place. CREDIT: Daniel Gutman/IPS

BUENOS AIRES, May 13 2022 (IPS) – It’s a strange trial, with no defendants. The purpose is not to hand down a conviction, but to bring visibility to an atrocious event that occurred almost a hundred years ago in northern Argentina and was concealed by the State for decades with singular success: the massacre by security forces of hundreds of indigenous people who were protesting labor mistreatment and discrimination.


“We are seeking to heal the wounds and vindicate the memory of the (indigenous) peoples,” explained federal judge Zunilda Niremperger, as she opened the first hearing in Buenos Aires on May 10 in the trial for the truth of the so-called Napalpí Massacre, in which an undetermined number of indigenous people were shot to death on the morning of Jul. 19, 1924.

The trial began on Apr. 19 in the northern province of Chaco, one of the country’s poorest, near the border with Paraguay. But it was moved momentarily to the capital, home to approximately one third of the 45 million inhabitants of this South American country, to give it greater visibility.

In a highly symbolic decision, the venue chosen in Buenos Aires was the Space for Memory and Human Rights, created in the former Navy School of Mechanics (ESMA), where the most notorious clandestine torture and extermination center operated during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship, which kidnapped and murdered as many as 30,000 people for political reasons.

“What we hope is that the sentence will bring out the truth about an event that needs to be understood so that racism and xenophobia do not take hold in Argentina. People need to know about all the blood that has flowed because of contempt for indigenous people.” — Duilio Ramírez

The hearings in Buenos Aires ended Thursday May 12, and the court will reconvene in Resistencia, the capital of Chaco, on May 19, when the prosecutor’s office and the plaintiffs are to present their arguments before the sentence is handed down at an unspecified date.

“This trial is aimed at bringing out the truth that we need, and that I come to support, in the place where they brought my daughter when they kidnapped her. This shows that genocides are repeated in history,” Vera Vigevani de Jarach, seated in the front row of the courtroom, her head covered by the white scarf that identifies the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo human rights group, told IPS.

Vera, 94, is Jewish and emigrated with her family to Argentina when she was 11 years old from Italy, due to the racial persecution unleashed by fascist leader Benito Mussolini in 1939. In 1976 her only daughter, Franca Jarach, then 18 years old, was forcibly disappeared.

“Truth trials” are not a novelty in Argentina. The term was used to refer to investigations of the crimes committed by the dictatorship, carried out after 1999, when amnesty laws passed after the conviction of the military regime’s top leaders blocked the prosecution of the rest of the perpetrators.

A petition filed by a member of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo (made up of mothers of victims of forced disappearance) before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) led later to an agreement with the Argentine State, which recognized the woman’s right to have the judiciary investigate the fate of her disappeared daughter, even though the amnesty laws made it impossible to punish those responsible.

Eventually, the amnesty laws were repealed, the trials resumed, and defendants were convicted and sent to prison.

Indigenous communities and human rights organizations held an Apr. 19, 2022 demonstration in Resistencia, capital of the Argentine province of Chaco, at the beginning of the trial for the truth about the Napalpí massacre. CREDIT: Chaco Secretariat of Human Rights and Gender

Indigenous communities and human rights organizations held an Apr. 19, 2022 demonstration in Resistencia, capital of the Argentine province of Chaco, at the beginning of the trial for the truth about the Napalpí massacre. CREDIT: Chaco Secretariat of Human Rights and Gender

Historic reparations

“My grandmother was a survivor of the massacre and I grew up listening to the stories of labor exploitation in Napalpí and about what happened that day. For us this trial is a historic reparation,” Miguel Iya Gómez, a bilingual multicultural teacher who today presides over the Chaco Aboriginal Institute, a provincial agency whose mission is to improve the living conditions of native communities, told IPS.

The trial is built on the basis of official documents and journalistic coverage of the time and the videotaped testimonies of survivors of the massacre and their descendants, and of researchers of indigenous history in the Chaco.

The Argentine province of Chaco forms part of the ecoregion from which it takes its name: a vast, hot, dry, sparsely forested plain that was largely unsettled during the Spanish Conquest. Only at the end of the 19th century did the modern Argentine State launch military campaigns to subdue the indigenous people in the Chaco and impose its authority there.

Once the Chaco was conquered, many indigenous families were forced to settle in camps called “reducciones”, where they had to carry out agricultural work.

“The ‘reducciones’ operated in the Chaco between 1911 and 1956 and were concentration camps for indigenous people, who were disciplined through work,” said sociologist Marcelo Musante, a member of the Network of Researchers on Genocide and Indigenous Policies in Argentina, which brings together academics from different disciplines, at the hearing.

“When indigenous people entered the ‘reducción’, they were given clothes and farming tools, and this generated a debt that put them under great pressure. And they were not allowed to make purchases outside the stores of the ‘reducción’,” he explained.

David García, a member of the Napalpí Foundation, created in 2006 to gather information about and bring visibility to the 1924 massacre, took part in the trial in Buenos Aires. His organization was one of the driving forces behind the historic trial in Argentina. CREDIT: Daniel Gutman/IPS

David García, a member of the Napalpí Foundation, created in 2006 to gather information about and bring visibility to the 1924 massacre, took part in the trial in Buenos Aires. His organization was one of the driving forces behind the historic trial in Argentina. CREDIT: Daniel Gutman/IPS

Invaded by cotton

Historian Nicolás Iñigo Carrera said it was common for indigenous people in the Chaco to go to work temporarily in sugar mills in the neighboring provinces of Salta and Jujuy, but the scenario changed in the 1920s, when the Argentine government introduced cotton in the Chaco, to tap into the textile industry’s growing global demand.

“Then the criollo (white) settlers, who often had no laborers, demanded the guaranteed availability of indigenous labor to harvest the cotton crop, and in 1924 the government prohibited indigenous people, who refused to work on the cotton plantations, from leaving the Chaco, declaring any who left subversives,” Carrera said.

Anthropologist Lena Dávila Da Rosa said the Jul. 19, 1924 protest involved between 800 and 1000 indigenous people from Napalpí, and some 130 police officers who opened fired on them, with the support of an airplane that dropped candy so the children would go out to look for it and thus reveal the location of the protesters they were tracking down.

“It’s impossible to know exactly how many indigenous people were killed, but there were several hundred victims,” Alejandro Jasinski, a researcher with the Truth and Justice Program of the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, told IPS.

“The official report mentioned four people killed in confrontations among themselves, and there was a judicial investigation that was quickly closed. All that was left were the buried memories of the communities,” he added.

The memories were revived and made public in recent years thanks in large part to the efforts of Juan Chico, an indigenous writer and researcher from the Chaco who died of COVID-19 in 2021.

“Juan started collecting oral accounts almost 20 years ago,” David García, a translator and interpreter of the language of the Qom, one of the main indigenous nations of the Chaco, told IPS. “I worked alongside him to bring the indigenous genocide to light, and in 2006 we founded an NGO that today is the Napalpí Foundation. It was a long struggle to reach this trial.”

Vera Vigevani de Jarach, a member of the human rights group Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, attended the hearing in Buenos Aires for the Napalpí indigenous massacre, held in the most notorious clandestine detention and torture center used by the 1976-1983 military dictatorship in Argentina. CREDIT: National Secretariat of Human Rights

Vera Vigevani de Jarach, a member of the human rights group Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, attended the hearing in Buenos Aires for the Napalpí indigenous massacre, held in the most notorious clandestine detention and torture center used by the 1976-1983 military dictatorship in Argentina. CREDIT: National Secretariat of Human Rights

Indigenous people in the Chaco today

Of the population of Chaco province, 3.9 percent, or 41,304 people, identified as indigenous in the last national census conducted in Argentina in 2010, which is higher than the national average of 2.4 percent.

Census data reflects the harsh living conditions of indigenous people in the Chaco and the disadvantages they face in relation to the rest of the population. More than 80 percent live in deficient housing while more than 25 percent live in critically overcrowded conditions, with more than three people per room. In addition, more than half of the households cook with firewood or charcoal.

Today, the site of the Napalpí massacre is called Colonia Aborigen Chaco and is a 20,000-hectare plot of land owned by the indigenous community where, according to official data, some 1,300 indigenous people live, from the Qom and Moqoit communities, the most numerous native groups in the Chaco along with the Wichi.

In 2019, mass graves were found there by the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team, a prestigious organization that emerged in 1984 to identify remains of victims of the military dictatorship and that has worked all over the world.

“What we hope is that the sentence will bring out the truth about an event that needs to be understood so that racism and xenophobia do not take hold in Argentina,” Duilio Ramírez, a lawyer with the Chaco government’s Human Rights Secretariat, which is acting as plaintiff, told IPS. “People need to know about all the blood that has flowed because of contempt for indigenous people.”

“We hope that with the ruling, the Argentine State will take responsibility for what happened and that this will translate into public policies of reparations for the indigenous communities,” he said.

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Indigenous Women in Mexico Take United Stance Against Inequality

Civil Society, Cooperatives, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Food and Agriculture, Gender, Headlines, Human Rights, Indigenous Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, Poverty & SDGs, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations, Women & Climate Change, Women & Economy

Women & Economy

Every other Tuesday, a working group of Mayan women meets to review the organization and progress of their food saving and production project in Uayma, in the state of Yucatán in southeastern Mexico. CREDIT: Courtesy of the Ko'ox Tani Foundation

Every other Tuesday, a working group of Mayan women meets to review the organization and progress of their food saving and production project in Uayma, in the state of Yucatán in southeastern Mexico. CREDIT: Courtesy of the Ko’ox Tani Foundation

UAYMA, Mexico , Apr 26 2022 (IPS) – Every other Tuesday at 5:00 p.m. sharp, a group of 26 Mexican women meet for an hour to discuss the progress of their work and immediate tasks. Anyone who arrives late must pay a fine of about 25 cents on the dollar.


The collective has organized in the municipality of Uayma (which means “Not here” in the Mayan language) to learn agroecological practices, as well as how to save money and produce food for family consumption and the sale of surpluses.

“We have to be responsible. With savings we can do a little more,” María Petul, a married Mayan indigenous mother of two and a member of the group “Lool beh” (“Flower of the road” in Mayan), told IPS in this municipality of just over 4,000 inhabitants, 1,470 kilometers southeast of Mexico City in the state of Yucatán, on the Yucatán peninsula.

The home garden “gives me enough to eat and sell, it helps me out,” said Petul as she walked through her small garden where she grows habanero peppers (Capsicum chinense, traditional in the area), radishes and tomatoes, surrounded by a few trees, including a banana tree whose fruit will ripen in a few weeks and some chickens that roam around the earthen courtyard.

The face of Norma Tzuc, who is also married with two daughters, lights up with enthusiasm when she talks about the project. “I am very happy. We now have an income. It’s exciting to be able to help my family. Other groups already have experience and tell us about what they’ve been doing,” Tzuc told IPS.

The two women and the rest of their companions, whose mother tongue is Mayan, participate in the project “Women saving to address climate change”, run by the non-governmental Ko’ox Tani Foundation (“Let’s Go Ahead”, in Mayan), dedicated to community development and social inclusion, based in Merida, the state capital.

This phase of the project is endowed with some 100,000 dollars from the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), the non-binding environmental arm of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), formed in 1994 by Canada, the United States and Mexico and replaced in 2020 by another trilateral agreement.

The initiative got off the ground in February and will last two years, with the aim of training some 250 people living in extreme poverty, mostly women, in six locations in the state of Yucatán.

The maximum savings for each woman in the group is about 12 dollars every two weeks and the minimum is 2.50 dollars, and they can withdraw the accumulated savings to invest in inputs or animals, or for emergencies, with the agreement of the group. Through the project, the women will receive seeds, agricultural inputs and poultry, so that they can install vegetable gardens and chicken coops on their land.

The women write down the quotas in a white notebook and deposit the savings in a gray box, kept in the house of the group’s president.

José Torre, project director of the Ko’ox Tani Foundation, explained that the main areas of entrepreneurship are: community development, food security, livelihoods and human development.

“What we have seen over time is that the savings meetings become a space for human development, in which they find support and solidarity from their peers, make friends and build trust,” he told IPS during a tour of the homes of some of the savings group participants in Uayma.

The basis for the new initiative in this locality is a similar program implemented between 2018 and 2021 in other Yucatecan municipalities, in which the organization worked with 1400 families.

María Petul, a Mayan indigenous woman, plants chili peppers, tomatoes, radishes and medicinal herbs in the vegetable garden in the courtyard of her home in Uayma, in the southeastern Mexican state of Yucatán. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

María Petul, a Mayan indigenous woman, plants chili peppers, tomatoes, radishes and medicinal herbs in the vegetable garden in the courtyard of her home in Uayma, in the southeastern Mexican state of Yucatán. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Unequal oasis

Yucatan, a region home to 2.28 million people, suffers from a high degree of social backwardness, with 34 percent of the population living in moderate poverty, 33 percent suffering unmet needs, 5.5 percent experiencing income vulnerability and almost seven percent living in extreme poverty.

The COVID-19 pandemic that hit this Latin American country in February 2020 exacerbated these conditions in a state that depends on agriculture, tourism and services, similar to the other two states that make up the Yucatán Peninsula: Campeche and Quintana Roo.

Inequality is also a huge problem in the state, although the Gini Index dropped from 0.51 in 2014 to 0.45, according to a 2018 government report, based on data from 2016 (the latest year available). The Gini coefficient, where 1 indicates the maximum inequality and 0 the greatest equality, is used to calculate income inequality.

The situation of indigenous women is worse, as they face marginalization, discrimination, violence, land dispossession and lack of access to public services.

More than one million indigenous people live in the state.

Women participating in a project funded by the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation record their savings in a white notebook and deposit them in a gray box. Mayan indigenous woman Norma Tzuc belongs to a group taking part in the initiative in Uayma, in the southeastern Mexican state of Yucatán. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Women participating in a project funded by the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation record their savings in a white notebook and deposit them in a gray box. Mayan indigenous woman Norma Tzuc belongs to a group taking part in the initiative in Uayma, in the southeastern Mexican state of Yucatán. CREDIT: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Climate crisis, yet another vulnerability

Itza Castañeda, director of equity at the non-governmental World Resources Institute (WRI), highlights the persistence of structural inequalities in the peninsula that exacerbate the effects of the climate crisis.

“In the three states there is greater inequality between men and women. This stands in the way of women’s participation and decision-making. Furthermore, the existing evidence shows that there are groups in conditions of greater vulnerability to climate impacts,” she told IPS from the city of Tepoztlán, near Mexico City.

She added that “climate change accentuates existing inequalities, but a differentiated impact assessment is lacking.”

Official data indicate that there are almost 17 million indigenous people in Mexico, representing 13 percent of the total population, of which six million are women.

Of indigenous households, almost a quarter are headed by women, while 65 percent of indigenous girls and women aged 12 and over perform unpaid work compared to 35 percent of indigenous men – a sign of the inequality in the system of domestic and care work.

To add to their hardships, the Yucatan region is highly vulnerable to the effects of the climate crisis, such as droughts, devastating storms and rising sea levels. In June 2021, tropical storm Cristobal caused the flooding of Uayma, where three women’s groups are operating under the savings system.

For that reason, the project includes a risk management and hurricane early warning system.

The Mexican government is building a National Care System, but the involvement of indigenous women and the benefits for them are still unclear.

Petul looks excitedly at the crops planted on her land and dreams of a larger garden, with more plants and more chickens roaming around, and perhaps a pig to be fattened. She also thinks about the possibility of emulating women from previous groups who have set up small stores with their savings.

“They will lay eggs and we can eat them or sell them. With the savings we can also buy roosters, in the market chicks are expensive,” said Petul, brimming with hope, who in addition to taking care of her home and family sells vegetables.

Her neighbor Tzuc, who until now has been a homemaker, said that the women in her group have to take into account the effects of climate change. “It has been very hot, hotter than before, and there is drought. Fortunately, we have water, but we have to take care of it,” she said.

For his part, Torre underscored the results of the savings groups. The women “left extreme poverty behind. The pandemic hit hard, because there were families who had businesses and stopped selling. The organization gave them resilience,” he said.

In addition, a major achievement is that the households that have already completed the project continue to save, regularly attend meetings and have kept producing food.

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China’s Entry into the Muslim World

Civil Society, Democracy, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Global, Global Governance, Headlines, IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse, Peace, Religion, TerraViva United Nations

Opinion

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Apr 7 2022 (IPS) – The retrenchment of American power in the Middle East and the larger Muslim world, coupled with the war in Ukraine, has provided a geopolitical breather for China. Beijing is effectively deploying this to make strategic inroads into the region, given this vacuum and focus on Europe.


The recent invitation to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi to address the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) conference in Islamabad is a ‘historic first,’ and a significant breakthrough for Chinese diplomacy. For the first time, the foreign minister of the Peoples Republic of China was invited to address the most representative platform of the 57-member body representing the 1.5 billion Muslims.

During his speech at the OIC conference in Islamabad on the 22nd March 2022, Foreign Minister Wang Yi talked about the “long standing relationship between China and the Muslim world” and reaffirmed that China would continue supporting Muslim countries in their quest for political independence and economic development.

Historically, China has always been etched in the Muslim consciousness as a country with a great civilisation based on knowledge, learning and development. For example, there is a famous saying of the Holy Prophet Mohammad (Peace Be Upon Him), 1,400 years ago, which urged Muslims to “seek knowledge, even if you have to go to China,” implying that although China was physically far away from Arabia, it was a land of learning.

Soon after the end of the Cold War in the 1990s, a professor of the prestigious American university Harvard, Prof. Samuel Huntington, talked of a ‘clash of civilisations’ in which he implied that Western civilization would be at odds with both the Islamic and the Confucian civilisations. Interestingly, he also talked of a united front of the Islamic and Confucian civilisations.

During his speech at the conference on Dialogue among Civilisations, held in Beijing in May 2019, Chinese President Xi Jinping mentioned the contribution of the Islamic civilisation to “enrich the Chinese civilisation” and also referred to the Holy Mosque in Makkah (Mecca) as well as the travels to China of the Muslim explorer, Ibn Batuta, who wrote favourably on China and the Chinese people.

China has a longstanding relationship with the Muslim world. After the Chinese revolution in 1949, Pakistan was the first country in the Muslim world to recognise the People’s Republic of China in May 1950. The first institutional interaction between China and the Muslim countries took place at the 1955 Afro-Asian Summit in Bandung, Indonesia.

It was hosted by the world’s largest Muslim country, Indonesia and Pakistan and China were among the countries attending this historic summit. China shares a border with 14 countries, five of which are members of the OIC and none of these have border disputes with China.

In January 1965, when the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), was formed, China was among the first countries who recognised it. And in the 1960s and early 70s, China also provided material support and aid to various Muslim countries that were facing economic and political pressures, including Pakistan, Nigeria, Indonesia, South Yemen and Egypt.

As a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, China also has been in the forefront of countries that have a proactive approach to the Muslim world. China, for example, presented a Middle East peace plan and it was unveiled during visits to China in May 2013 by the President of the Palestinian Authority, Mehmood Abbas, and the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu.

During his meeting with the two leaders, President Xi Jinping presented the 4-point peace plan that called for an independent Palestine State alongside Israel, based on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. While recognising Israel’s right to exist in security, the Chinese peace plan also called for an end to building Jewish settlements in the occupied territories of Palestine, cessation of violence against civilians and termination of the Israel blockade of Gaza.

The peace plan also called for resolving the issue of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and sought more humanitarian assistance for the Palestinians, while underlining that these are “necessary for the resumption of peace talks between Israel and Palestinian Authority.”

China also has been principled on the issue of Syria urging an end to both interference in Syrian affairs and an end to the Syrian civil war. In January 2022, China invited Syria to be part of the Belt & Road Initiative (BRI).

China today is the largest importer of crude oil in the world and almost 50% of that oil comes from the Muslim countries of the Middle East, especially Saudi Arabia, Iran and the UAE. Saudi Arabia has also invited President Xi Jinping to visit the Kingdom and there have been media reports that China and Saudi Arabia are engaged in discussions to have their oil trade done partially in Yuan or the RMB, the Chinese currency.

Defence cooperation between China and the Muslim world is also expanding and the Chinese advanced jetfighter J10C is now in use in countries like Pakistan and the UAE. In January 2022, China and Iran signed a comprehensive Strategic Accord which will run for 25 years, worth well over $400 billion dollars.

The centre piece of China’s relationship with the Muslim world today is the BRI. Interestingly, the BRI was launched in two phases by President Xi Jinping, with two important speeches in two different Muslim countries. In September 2013, during the speech in Astana, capital of Kazakhstan, President Xi Jinping announced the launch of the Silk Road Economic Belt.

During another speech in Jakarta, capital of Indonesia, in November 2013, President Xi Jinping announced the launch of the Maritime Silk Road, both pillars of the BRI. And during his speech at the OIC conference on the 22nd March, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that “China is investing over 400 billion dollars in nearly 600 projects across the Muslim world under the BRI.”

He underlined that “China is ready to work with Islamic countries to promote a multi-polar world, democracy in international relations and diversity of human civilisation, and make unremitting efforts to build a community with a shared future for mankind”. On the issue of Palestine and Kashmir, Wang Yi said that “China shares the same aspirations as the OIC, seeking a comprehensive and just settlement of these disputes.”

Another example of close ties between China and the Muslim world was the February 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, where a majority of Muslim countries like Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar had a high level of representation, despite the boycott called by certain Western countries. Also, only last week, on the 30th March, China hosted an important conference, the Meeting of Foreign Ministers of Afghanistan’s Neighboring Countries, which was well attended.

China has also received support from Muslim countries on the issue of Xinjiang at the UN Human Rights Council. In fact, in July 2019, when a group of 22 nations led by the West sent a letter to the UN Human Rights Council criticising China on Xinjiang, not a single Muslim country was a signatory of that letter, while another group of 37 countries submitted a letter on the same issue defending Chinese policies.

These countries included all the six Gulf countries plus Pakistan, Algeria, Syria, Egypt, Eritrea, Nigeria, Somalia, and Sudan — all Muslim countries.

Given the changing geopolitical scenario, where there is a shift in the global balance of economic and political power, away from West and toward the East, followed by calls for a New Cold War, China’s thrust for cooperation and connectivity, given the common threat of the Coronavirus pandemic and the need for connectivity through BRI, has a broad resonance in the Muslim world.

The Muslim countries see their relations with China as a strategic bond to promote stability, security and economic development in the Muslim world and the BRI has become the principal vehicle in the promotion of such an approach.

In the coming years, China’s partnership with the Muslim world is likely to be strengthened, given the mutuality of interests and the convergence of worldviews in upholding a world order based on International Law, the UN Charter and the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence.

Ironically, thirty years after enunciating the Huntington thesis on the ‘clash of civilisations,’ which talked of the Islamic and Confucian Civilisations co-existence with each other but possible confrontation with Western Civilisation, recent developments may be pointers to a self-fulfilling prophecy!

Source: Wall Street International MagazineTop of Form/OTHER NEWS
https://wsimag.com/economy-and-politics/69117-chinas-entry-into-the-muslim-world

Chairman of the Senate Defence Committee Pakistani, Senator Mushahid Hussain was Bureau Chief in Islamabad of Inter Press Service (IPS) during 1987-1997 & later in 2014. He launched the first Public Hearings on Environment & Climate Change in the Pakistan Parliament. As Senator, he chairs the Senate Sub Committee on ‘Green and Clean Islamabad’ which has launched a campaign to ban plastic use in the Pakistani capital.

IPS UN Bureau

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New Constitution Would Declare Chile a Plurinational State

Civil Society, Democracy, Editors’ Choice, Featured, Headlines, Human Rights, Indigenous Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations

Indigenous Rights

A Mar. 3 plenary session of the constitutional convention of Chile, where in long working days its members are drafting a new constitution, which must be completed by Jul. 4 at the latest. On Feb. 17, they approved by a large majority the new definition of Chile as a regional, plurinational and pluricultural State. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi/IPS

A Mar. 3 plenary session of the constitutional convention of Chile, where in long working days its members are drafting a new constitution, which must be completed by Jul. 4 at the latest. On Feb. 17, they approved by a large majority the new definition of Chile as a regional, plurinational and pluricultural State. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi/IPS

SANTIAGO, Mar 9 2022 (IPS) – Chile could change the course of its history and become a diverse and multicolored country this year with a “plurinational and intercultural state” that recognizes and promotes the development of the native peoples that inhabited this territory before the Spanish conquest.


By 112 votes in favor and 32 against, the constitutional convention approved this proposal which now forms part of the draft constitution that Chilean voters will approve or reject in an August or September referendum.

“The current Chilean constitution and the previous ones make no mention of the words Indian, native…indigenous peoples, or original peoples. Nothing. They are erased from the constitution because they were made invisible socially, culturally, economically, politically and militarily.” — Domingo Namuncura

The constitutional convention is debating and drafting a new constitution which is the result of the work of 155 constituents – half men and half women, with 17 indigenous members – elected by popular vote in October 2020 who began the task on Jul. 4, 2021. They have until Jul. 4 to finish their work.

In the country’s last census, in 2017, 2.18 million Chileans self-identified as indigenous people.

In other words, 12.8 percent of the 17.07 million inhabitants of Chile at that time (today the population stands at 19.4 million) were recognized as belonging to one of the indigenous peoples distributed throughout this long narrow South American country: the Mapuche (the largest native group), followed by the Aymara, Rapa Nui, Diaguita, Atacameño, Quechua, Colla, Kawesqar and Yagan.

Domingo Namuncura, a Mapuche social worker and professor at the Catholic University of Valparaíso, told IPS that “we are facing a very important historic event. The declaration of a plurinational State has always been a dream of the indigenous peoples of Chile.”

The creation of the constitutional convention was the response to months of protests and social unrest in 2019, the repression of which tainted the second term of right-wing President Sebastián Piñera, a businessman who had already governed the country between 2010 and 2014, and who will be succeeded as of Mar. 11 by the leftist Gabriel Boric, winner of the December elections.

Chile has been governed since 1980 by the constitution imposed by the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990), who used legislation to put in place a neoliberal and authoritarian economic and political regime, which democratic governments have only been able to partially dismantle since 1990.

The result is a country with a dynamic economy based on exports of mining and agricultural products, but with one of the most unequal societies in the world, which was at the basis of the 2019 demonstrations, as was the failure to fulfill promises of change, such as a new constitution, the reform of the educational system or improvements in social rights.

Mapuche Indians living in the metropolitan region. Data from 2021 indicate that the Mapuche, Chile's largest indigenous people, number 1.8 million, followed by the Aymara (156,000) and the Diaguita (88,000). CREDIT: Orlando Milesi/IPS

Mapuche Indians living in the metropolitan region. Data from 2021 indicate that the Mapuche, Chile’s largest indigenous people, number 1.8 million, followed by the Aymara (156,000) and the Diaguita (88,000). CREDIT: Orlando Milesi/IPS

Arguments of the constituents

No previous Chilean constitution has mentioned indigenous people and their rights, by contrast with other Latin American constitutions that have emerged since 1980. And the only precedent of declaring a “plurinational state” is that of neighboring Bolivia, which did so in its 2009 constitution.

“The current Chilean constitution and the previous ones make no mention of the words Indian, native…indigenous peoples, or original peoples. Nothing. They are erased from the constitution because they were made invisible socially, culturally, economically, politically and militarily,” said Namuncura.

Adolfo Millabur, Chile’s first Mapuche mayor, elected in 1996 in the southern town of Tirúa, resigned from his post to become a member of the constitutional convention, to occupy one of the seats reserved for Mapuche representatives. He maintained that “if Chile is transformed and defines itself as a plurinational state, what changes is its democratic vocation.”

“By acknowledging the peoples that lived here prior to the creation of the Chilean State, a collective actor is given value. Different forms of relations should begin to be established, especially in the area of political definition and participation,” he told IPS.

Lawyer Tiare Aguilera, a member of the constitutional convention from the Rapa Nui people, believes that “the most important thing is to reach the referendum with a citizenry that is informed about plurinationality and its implications.”

In her view, “through plurinationality, our country will finally be able to advance towards reparations for the native peoples of Chile.

“There is a great deal of ignorance among the public. If we correctly inform and educate the public about their meanings and implications, we believe that the changes in the definition of the State will be understood,” she told IPS.

The facade of the old National Congress, where since July 2021 the members of the constitutional convention have been debating the new form of State that will govern Chile starting this year, if the draft constition is approved in a referendum. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi/IPS

The facade of the old National Congress, where since July 2021 the members of the constitutional convention have been debating the new form of State that will govern Chile starting this year, if the draft constition is approved in a referendum. CREDIT: Orlando Milesi/IPS

Jaime Bassa, a member of the constitutional convention who was its vice-president until January, said “the normative proposals approved in commissions and in the plenary on plurinationality speak to us of a sense of reality, of accepting ourselves in legitimate diversity and coexistence, of recognizing our historical roots, of valuing ourselves based on our cultural identity.

“In comparative experiences, plurinationalism and multilingualism have brought about interesting cultural changes that have led to innovative and sustainable development alternatives,” he told IPS.

In his opinion, “the growth and development model we are moving towards within the framework of the constituent process that is underway should promote ethics and inter-territorial solidarity, care for the environment and sustainability, as foundations for political equality, and to ensure collaborative, resilient contexts of respect for rights that allow us to broaden and deepen our democracy.”

Bassa said the constitutional convention “is working on a proposal for a plurinational and decentralized legislative power in which there is equality, which would give rise to representation for the different territories, that would participate in the process of law-making, effectively representing the peoples and nations that coexist within the State.”

The regulation approved on Feb. 17 states that “Chile is a regional, plurinational and intercultural State made up of autonomous territorial entities, within a framework of equity and solidarity among all of them, preserving the unity and integrity of the State.”

According to Namuncura, who was the first Mapuche to serve as a Chilean ambassador, to Guatemala, “Chile has always been plurinational because it is constituted on the basis of different native populations that were already in this territory and that joined as native peoples or nations, by force or otherwise, in the construction of the national State.

“From the Aztec, Mayan, Inca and Mapuche cultures, before the arrival of the Spaniards, America was already a plurinational continent populated by more than 1,200 indigenous nationalities that were formed many centuries ago,” he pointed out.

The convention is also discussing other norms for indigenous peoples, such as their own courts of justice in coordination with the national justice system, a parliament with indigenous representation and a regime governing natural resources located in their territories.

Representatives of the Mapuche, Lonko and Machi peoples take part in the raising of the flag in the Plaza de Armas in Vilcún, 700 km south of Santiago, in one of the many events held in Chile every Jun. 24, declared a national holiday for We Tripantu (new sunrise), the Mapuche New Year. CREDIT: Mirna Concha/IPS

Representatives of the Mapuche, Lonko and Machi peoples take part in the raising of the flag in the Plaza de Armas in Vilcún, 700 km south of Santiago, in one of the many events held in Chile every Jun. 24, declared a national holiday for We Tripantu (new sunrise), the Mapuche New Year. CREDIT: Mirna Concha/IPS

Business leaders unhappy

This process is of great concern to the business leaders grouped in the Confederation of Production and Commerce (CPC), whose board, headed by Juan Sutil, met several times with Mapuche representative Elisa Loncón, who was president of the convention until January, and her successor, María Elisa Quinteros.

The CPC was behind numerous Popular Standards Initiatives seeking to include its positions in the debate. It invited everyone to support these initiatives “that defend the values of freedom of thought and free enterprise,” among others, in order to achieve “a robust democracy” with public-private collaboration.

The CPC gathered 507,852 signatures and was able to submit 16 initiatives with its views on the constituent process. Three of them have already been rejected: “Free enterprise”, “Economic model, freedom of entrepreneurship and promotion of small and medium-sized enterprises”, and “Water for all”. One more is still being processed: “Towards sustainable mining for Chile”.

Business leaders have raised the tone of their opposition to the convention, which they accuse of distancing itself from the real Chile and from the work for a constitution for all.

“I am concerned that the constitution that is being drafted is not generating the proper balances and will not be a constitution that takes into account the sensibilities of all Chileans,” said Sutil.

Those sensitivities, he said, are especially from “a minority sector, which could be the center right, the right and even people from the center within the convention itself who are not being taken into consideration at all,” he told a local radio station.

“Chile is much more than what the constitutional convention reflects. The correlation of forces is very different in the real Chile than what is happening in the convention,” he argued.

According to Sutil, criticism of the convention is widespread and “this is bad not only because it jeopardizes the process, but also because it jeopardizes the future of the country from an institutional point of view, and from the point of view of its development and growth.”

Forestry companies own approximately 1.9 million hectares in an enormous area in the south, across three of the country’s regions. A significant part of these hectares are the ancestral lands of indigenous peoples.

Catalina Marileo and Luis Aillapán, a Mapuche couple, stand in front of their home in Puerto Saavedra in the central Chilean region of La Araucanía. They have been among the many members of native peoples tried under an anti-terrorism law inherited from the dictatorship for acts such as, in their case, opposing the military for building a road on their land. Now Chile could be declared a plurinational State. CREDIT: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Catalina Marileo and Luis Aillapán, a Mapuche couple, stand in front of their home in Puerto Saavedra in the central Chilean region of La Araucanía. They have been among the many members of native peoples tried under an anti-terrorism law inherited from the dictatorship for acts such as, in their case, opposing the military for building a road on their land. Now Chile could be declared a plurinational State. CREDIT: Marianela Jarroud/IPS

Precedents of a truth commission

The Historical Truth and New Deal with Indigenous Peoples Commission, created by then president Ricardo Lagos in 2001 and composed of 24 members with cross-cutting representation, found that 500,000 hectares were awarded to indigenous peoples between 1884 and 1929. This was verified after reviewing 413 titles issued in that time span.

The purpose of the Commission was to “correct the historical invisibility of native peoples, recognize their identity, repair the damage done to them and contribute to the preservation of their culture.”

In its final report, in 2003, the Commission proposed a hundred measures. In the area of land, it called for protecting lands belonging to indigenous peoples, demarcating and titling ancestral lands of native communities, and establishing a land reclamation mechanism.

Regarding natural resources, it proposed recognizing the indigenous peoples’ right of ownership, use, administration and benefit, the preferential right in State concessions, and the right of use, management and conservation.

So far, the greatest gesture by the State for the mistreatment of indigenous peoples was made by the current United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, who as president of Chile (2006-2010 and 2014-2018) apologized in June 2017 to the Mapuche in a solemn official act for “the errors and horrors” committed against them.

Namuncura believes that a pending task is “to reach a political agreement with the large forestry companies so that a part of these lands, which today are their property, are returned to the indigenous peoples through a long-term political and financial commitment, with the possibility of considering the value of this restitution.”

The wording already approved for the first draft will now be analyzed by the Harmonization Commission, which will ensure “the concordance and coherence of the constitutional norms approved by the plenary.”

The version that emerges from that process will be voted by the plenary which, by two thirds, will define the text to be voted on by all Chileans in the referendum.

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